What Is Unconscious Bias?

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Have you ever read a news item about a terrorist attack in an American city and assumed the terrorist was from the Middle East? When walking to your car at night and seeing a young black man in the parking lot, do you ever feel apprehension or fear? When you hear the words “professional athlete” or “brain surgeon” do you picture a man?

All three scenarios are common examples of unconscious bias, which are automatic, unintentional reactions or judgments we make. They are based on learned stereotype, deeply ingrained in us from a very early age. While it may be hard to admit, we all make instant assessments of other people based on gender, race, ethnicity, body size, profession, income and other factors—and they often have a negative impact.

“The fact that these responses are normal and made without thinking does not make them harmless,” says Myeshia Jones, who leads community engagement for Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson. “Unconscious biases can lead to discrimination of all types, from how we treat our neighbors to who we hire and how we care for patients.” 

While we may not be responsible for how we learned theses biases, we do control whether or not we move past them or let them influence how we behave or treat others.

“We have a responsibility to recognize biases within ourselves,” Myeshia says. “Once we lower our defenses, we can become aware of the many ways our thoughts and actions are formed by stereotypes—and it becomes harder to ignore them.”

Changing our thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to our unconscious biases doesn’t happen overnight, especially when they have been embedded over a lifetime. Admitting them to ourselves can be humbling and painful, but it’s a necessary first step.

“If we want to make positive change, we have to challenge our discomfort. We have to be willing to examine our motives and have honest discussions about race, gender, culture, religion and other things that make us unique individuals,” Myeshia says. “Change is often not easy, but think of the difference we can make together if we are willing to try.”


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To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you're in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, visit henryfordallegiance.com or call 1-888-862-DOCS.

Myeshia Jones, Director of Community Engagement at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, focuses on building trusting relationships between the community and the Health System. Henry Ford Health System is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and best practices, embracing all members of the communities we serve.

Categories: FeelWell